Have you ever wondered why you feel more tired during winter than in any other season?
You’d be interested to know that it’s not just you. And the reason behind it pretty much checks out.
Winter fatigue is a sudden feeling of exhaustion when the cold weather sets in. It’s always tied up with the “winter blues,” clinically known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
According to the American Psychiatry Association, about 5% of Americans experience SAD in which most of the inflicted individuals are women.
Whether winter fatigue is a symptom of SAD or simply a result of other factors, it’s undoubtedly affecting winter productivity. It’s getting even harder to climb out of bed or start your first leg of work for the day. You may even find it unmotivating to go through with your routine.
Nonetheless, you can do something about winter fatigue.
Recognizing its existence is a good start. Then, make some adjustments to your regular schedule. You can check some of these adjustments and helpful tips as you keep reading.
Why Do I Feel Tired in the Winter?
Research has shown that you feel more tired during winter due to less sunlight exposure.
Days are shorter during winter. Plus, the cold weather often forces you to stay indoors, where the heater provides you with warmth.
As a result, you’ll have less encounter with sunlight, leading to an increase in melatonin production. Likewise, your body also produces lower vitamin D levels.
You may wonder how these chemical production imbalances affect your mood and energy, so let’s digest their role in developing winter fatigue.
First off, we have melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates the circadian rhythm, which affects the sleep-wake cycle. It is produced by the pineal gland found in the brain.
When likewise it’s dark and cold, your brain will produce more melatonin which activates your sleep mode. However, melatonin production is lowered in the morning, making you more energetic to perform work.
But why does melatonin surge during winter?
Melatonin production takes a cue from your circadian rhythm and environmental factors. For example, a decreased to complete loss of daylight triggers the release of more melatonin.
And since winter practically adopts a somewhat nighttime atmosphere, your brain increases melatonin production, making you feel sleepy even during the daytime.
Low Vitamin D
It’s a known fact that sunlight plays a vital role in vitamin D production. So, since you don’t get enough sunlight during winter, it’s expected that your vitamin D level drops.
Studies linked vitamin D deficiency with fatigue. In fact, it’s one of the prominent symptoms of the condition.
While you may have known vitamin D as a vital nutrient in absorbing calcium and phosphorus for building and strengthening bones, you’d be interested to know that vitamin D is also involved in muscle recovery.
And part of the body’s healing and recovery process includes a cooling down process, which preserves your energy.
If you have low vitamin D in your body, recovery may take longer, manifested by feeling sluggish or extremely tired.
How to Get Rid of Winter Fatigue
Now that you know how high melatonin and low vitamin D can lead to winter fatigue, it’s critical to address the condition by balancing these chemicals.
In most cases, you won’t need any prescription. Likewise, supplementation can be optional depending on the degree of fatigue you experience. Instead, you can simply tweak your routine, making it suitable for the weather, so to speak.
So, here are some of the recommended ways you can try to fight off winter fatigue.
- Get As Much Daylight As You Can
If you live in areas where winter does not completely rob the daylight, you can take advantage of the limited time when the sun is out.
As we’ve mentioned above, the lack of sunlight accounts for the development of SAD and, by extension, fatigue. So, the simplest solution is to ensure that you get sunlight exposure whenever possible.
You can bask under the sun for about 15 to 20 minutes in the winter. Likewise, you can simply open your curtains and let the sunshine in.
On the other hand, if the sun is entirely absent in your place, this could be a great time to plan a vacation where sunlight is plenty, especially if you’re recovering from an illness.
- Boost Your Vitamin D Intake
The lack of sunlight impedes your ability to produce vitamin D from cholesterol.
And as we established earlier, vitamin D deficiency drags you under the mud. That is to say, it makes you tired even during the day.
Likewise, it affects other aspects of your health, such as blood pressure and brain functions.
If it’s simply challenging to get a bit of sunlight during winter, you can consider taking vitamin D supplements.
Furthermore, you can eat foods rich in vitamin D, such as fatty fish, red meat, egg yolks, liver, and mushrooms.
However, if you’re unsure whether you’re suffering from vitamin D deficiency or not, you can take the Vitamin D Blood Test. This way, you can seek further recommendations from your doctor.
- Find a Way to Relax
Fatigue and winter blues cannot all be blamed on the season’s limited sunlight.
Sometimes that sluggish feeling comes from pressure and stress stemming from the need to accomplish work within shorter daylight. However, it can also come from factors affecting your mood at home or within your social circle.
Anyhow, it’s easier to get tired when you’re stressed. And it’s even aggravated during winter when your circadian rhythm can be all over the place.
With that, it is highly recommended to take a break once and in a while. Do some self-care activities.
Ensuring that you get to relax and release the stress and anxiety can restore your energy and motivation for the rest of the season.
- Eat High-Energy Foods
When your energy is low, it makes sense to stir clear from foods that make you even sleepier than you already are – at least during the day. Some of these foods that increase fatigue include pastries, junk foods, and other heavily processed foods.
With that, you should instead go for foods that naturally boost your energy, like oatmeal, oily fish, whole grains, nuts, leafy greens, fruits, eggs, and root vegetables.
Likewise, overeating within the day won’t help you get rid of fatigue. Instead, it will only make you drowsy. When you eat a lot, especially during lunch, your body refocuses the energy to digestion, making you feel tired and unproductive.
- Get Just Enough Sleep
Feeling tired during the day could be due to your unusual sleep routine.
Again, it’s insane how your sleep-wake cycle changes during winter. Your brain accepts the illusion that most of the day’s hours are nighttime. As a result, it produces plenty of melatonin that just triggers that tired feeling even in the middle of the day.
While we often associate fatigue with lack of sleep, too much sleep doesn’t help either. It’s often tempting to go into hibernation mode when the cold season kicks in, but getting excessive sleep will only make you feel fatigued.
So, stick to the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Set the alarm if necessary, but if you can condition your body to a specific sleep-wake schedule, that’s even better.
Do Humans Sleep More in the Winter?
We know other animals sleep a lot during winter. So you can’t bother them for the entire season. But do humans naturally sleep more in winter?
Yes, given the weather conditions and the lack of sunlight, it’s inevitable for humans to sleep excessively during winter.
In the US, 34% of adults claim that they get more sleep when it’s winter. It makes sense as the colder temperature is known to improve sleep quality.
However, it’s worth mentioning that humans don’t actually need more sleep beyond the standard 8 hours during the winter season. That sluggish, tired feeling is simply due to the cold weather and the absence of regular sunlight.
- Avoid Cranking the Heater Too Much at Night
It’s tempting to increase heat, especially at night. Sometimes you can’t help but turn your room into a steam house. However, this won’t do you any good as far as fatigue is concerned.
Cranking the heater beyond its average level at night will affect your sleep duration and quality. Some people are not aware that a warm room can impede your sleep. As mentioned earlier, you sleep better when it’s colder.
So, increasing the heat can lead to a lack of sleep which, as you may already know, contributes to your lack of energy during the day.
Does Chronic Fatigue Get Worse in the Winter?
Yes, research has uncovered evidence that chronic fatigue can worsen during winter.
According to an in-depth study, people diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) experience moderate to severe symptoms as winter progresses. In addition, 92% of the patients noted fatigue on top of other signs and symptoms of CFS.
Therefore, if you have CFS, it’s best to consult your doctor regarding the potential impact of the cold weather on your condition.
The Bottom Line
Winter fatigue isn’t just in your imagination. Unfortunately, it’s a real thing, and if you let it take over your daily routine, you will end up unproductive for most of the winter.
So, it’s always best to adjust your lifestyle and routine based on seasonal changes. With that, make sure to secure enough vitamin D while lowering your melatonin during the day.
Get as much sunlight as you can, eat the right foods, exercise regularly, and get proper sleep. You can continue living a healthy life during winter if you follow these tips.